Ireland’s Wild River Is An Example Of A Wildlife Documentary Done Right

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Ireland’s Wild River is one of the most enjoyable episodes of PBS’ beloved wildlife series Nature to come along in quite a while. This episode of Nature is such a joy first and foremost because of its approach. There is quite a bit to note on that matter alone. Another reason that audiences will enjoy this episode of Nature thanks to the beautiful cinematography. That plays directly into the episode’s approach. One more reason that viewers will enjoy this episode of Nature is its editing. Much like the cinematography, the editing plays directly in to the episode’s overall approach. All three factors together make this episode of Nature one that any viewer should see at least once.

PBS’ Nature has been a hit with viewers for years. That is because of its general approach. It has typically stayed as far as possible from all of the wildlife shows that are based more on personalities (whether on camera or off) than on the animals. Because they focus more on personalities, those same shows take more of an intrusive approach than Nature for lack of better wording. While this episode of Nature actually does have a host of sorts in Colin Stafford-Johnson, he is not the center of attention. Nor does he show any interest in taking center stage. The only time that he is shown is occasionally as he paddles (yes, paddles) along the Shannon. Even his own narration is apart from that of hosts of other wildlife program. That makes this episode even more enjoyable for true nature lovers. His narration isn’t the same high energy approach of so many nature show hosts. Much like the cinematography and companion editing of this episode, Stafford-Johnson’s own narration is low-key and non-intrusive. He takes the angle more of a full-on observer than the standard host that goes in and grabs everything in sight, trying to stay in the camera. It’s one part of the episode’s approach that makes the episode such a joy.

Host Colin Stafford-Johnson’s hands off, observer style approach to Ireland’s Wild River is just one part of what makes this episode of Nature so enjoyable for lovers of any wildlife programming on television. Another, more subtle aspect of the episode’s approach that makes it so enjoyable is in how Stafford-Johnson made his way along the Shannon River. Whereas shows like River Monsters and others are so quick to use motorized boats because they make the show more “sexy” for viewers, Stafford-Johnson gently paddles along in a canoe. It’s a nice change of pace. It shows that Stafford-Johnson isn’t trying to present that same spit-shined, “sexy” appearance of those other shows. And it shows a true reverence for the wildlife along the river, too. He is showing that he doesn’t want to do anything to disturb the wildlife. This is such a welcome alternative to what audiences are accustomed to seeing from nature shows. It makes the episode’s overall approach all the more entertaining for audiences.

The approach taken by Stafford-Johnson and those responsible for the final product here resulted in what is one of the series’ best episodes so far in 2014. That work is not all that makes this episode so enjoyable. Just as important to the overall enjoyment factor is the combined cinematography and editing used for the final product. The shots of Stafford-Johnson paddling gently along the river, and sitting in his canoe among the reeds create such a sense of serenity. There are no overdone pans setting him against the backdrop of the river or other unnecessary flourishes. It’s just straight forward camera work. In terms of flourishes, audiences will like the high speed photography capturing in flight, the many birds that populate the Shannon. Even here, it isn’t overdone. This effect is used just enough to add a little extra “oomph” to the program. And the editing used to transition from one bird to the next adds even more of that feeling.   Just as worth noting is one specific moment in which a shot of a bird on a reed fades to a show of Stafford-Johnson’s silhouette against the setting sun in the sky. Given, it’s a standard edit effect. But it’s the only time that audiences see this effect used, too. Simply put the editing and cinematography are minimized just as much as Stafford-Johnson’s time on camera. There’s no over the top anything here. Everything is balanced just right throughout the course of the program. In the end it’s that balance makes Ireland’s Wild River one of the best episodes of PBS’ Nature yet.

Ireland’s Wild River is available now on DVD. It can be ordered direct from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=31134566&cp=&sr=1&kw=irelands+wild+river&origkw=Ireland%27s+Wild+River&parentPage=search. More information on this and other episodes of Nature is available online at http://www.facebook.com/PBSNature and http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Weird Creatures Is Weird, Wild Fun

Courtesy:  PBS/itv

Courtesy: PBS/itv

Everybody knows the names of Steve Irwin and Jack Hanna.  Now nature lovers can add one more name to the list of famed nature show hosts.  That man’s name is Nick Baker.  This young Brit hosts his own show on Britain’s itv called Weird Creatures with Nick Baker.  One part Wild Kratts and one part Crocodile Hunter, this series is aimed at much the same audiences as those shows.  So the question is what sets this series apart from its contemporaries?  The primary aspect of Weird Creatures with Nick Baker that sets it apart is that host Nick Baker comes across as being much more akin to Ghost Adventures host Zak Bagans than Hanna or Irwin in terms of his personality.  That is likely because of his seemingly young age.  Also worthy of note in this series is that unlike other nature series, episodes aren’t cut even if Baker and company don’t find the creature for which they are searching.  Regardless of whether or not their intended “target” is found, Baker and company still discuss other creatures that are discovered along the way.  So audiences are still introduced to any number of animals throughout each episode.  Lastly, audiences will appreciate from Weird Creatures with Nick Baker the fact that instead of just showing footage of country’s from which given animals originate, he and his crew actually travel to said regions.  The manifest function here is that not only are audiences treated to animals that they had never known about, they also get a glimpse of different regions of the world due to Baker’s globe hopping.  All of these factors and others show why this nature series stands out as one that today’s younger viewers will love to watch.

The first aspect of Weird Creatures with Nick Baker that audiences will appreciate in watching its first season (or “series” as it’s called by the Brits) is that while Baker obviously knows his stuff, he doesn’t try to be like contemporaries Jack Hanna and the late Steve Irwin.  Rather, he has his own “edge” about him so to speak.  He comes across as being looser about everything that he does than Hanna or Irwin.  He just doesn’t come across as being like Hanna or Irwin.  Even in his look, he will appeal more to younger viewers than to those that perhaps grew up watching those that came before him.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either.  That “edge” and younger look mixed in with an obvious love for and full understanding of his subjects could potentially influence younger viewers to take an interest in biology, zoology, and their associated sciences.  And what parent today could argue against their child or children gaining new interest in said subjects and careers? Exactly.  This is merely the starting point for what makes the show’s first season enjoyable.

Host Nick Baker’s peronsality, his look, and his love for and understanding of his subjects is the starting point for what makes the first season of his show enjoyable.  The adventures on which he and his crew embark are another part of what makes this first season enjoyable, too.  Just like Baker himself comes across as being unorthodox to a point, so do the episodes contained in Season One.  So many nature shows typically broadcast on American television feel spit-shined for lack of better wording.  Audiences are left feeling with American nature shows like their hosts magically find their “target “ animals in each episode.  And they seem so proper.  Weird Creatures with Nick Baker is the antithesis of said programs.  Even if Baker and company don’t find the animals for which they are searching, they still present to their viewers other animals that might not have ever been introduced to viewers.  And as in the case of the Pink Fairy Armadillo, this does indeed happen.  They never do find one in the wild.  But they are lucky enough to meet an Argentinian woman that keeps a stuffed Pink Fairy Armadillo in her home.   They almost don’t manage to find a Basking Shark, either in another episode.  But the weather and mother nature cooperate just enough to the point that they finally get to see one up close in said episode’s final minutes.  It’s nice to see this more “raw” feel from a nature show than something more spit shined and broadcast ready.

That Baker and his crew make the best of some difficult situations serves to make his show even more enjoyable when set next to his personality as a host.  There is still one last factor to look at that makes the show work, though.  That last factor is the exotic locales to which Baker and company travel for each episode of the show.  Again, one can’t help but compare Weird Creatures… to the likes of certain other nature based programs past and present in terms of its travel factor.  So many other nature based shows only present file footage of animals in their natural habitats.  And even the creature specific Animal Planet series River Monsters is limited in showing the areas to which its host travels.  This series on the other hand openly displays the regions to which the crew travels.  What they are doing is promoting interest in not only animals but in geography, and other natural sciences.  It does so much without even trying too hard.  And it is the final piece of Season One that makes it complete and complete fun for audiences.  It is available now and can be ordered direct from the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=19453476&cp=&sr=1&kw=weird+creatures+with+nick+baker&origkw=Weird+Creatures+with+Nick+Baker&parentPage=search.  More information on this series is available online at http://www.facebook.com/Weird.Creatures.With.Nick.Baker. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Pick blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.